I feel the Earth move under my feet

Let it roll

Rolls of sod lined up at Elbel Field as construction for new dorm begins.

There are a lot of memories rolled up in that groundcover. (Image: D. Holdship.)

One thing I’ve learned while working at a university: Don’t get attached.

Sure, we all claim to love tradition at these ivy-covered places of higher learning. But just look around. As one crane after another crowds the Ann Arbor skyline it’s clear we love progress a little bit more.

There’s no time to get precious about an ugly old building, a beloved bookstore, or some gnarly pizza joint that looms large in your college lore. That place you drank 21 shots of beer and rang a bell on your special day? It “moved.” That administration building you “occupied” as a rebellious teen? Green space. And that grassy field where you played touch football, enjoyed “beach volleyball,” and practiced “The Victors” with the marching band till you could barely stand? Well, take a look.

Try not to be shocked the next time you drive along Hoover toward Division. The once-empty space known as Elbel Field is crowded now with earth-moving equipment, heavy machinery, giant rolls of tubing, and huge containers. The softball diamonds have morphed into a lumpy dirt canvas covered in those tiny yellow leaves that stick to your shoes and follow you into every campus building. The groundcover at the site where the band once practiced is being rolled up and stacked at the curb like someone’s old carpeting.

To make room for all the heavy equipment, the band has moved to Ferry Field for now and will return to a sassy, upgraded site one block north of the current field when all is said and done. The new field will provide a new $15.4 million practice and teaching facility — among the best in the nation. It is slated to be ready for the 2024 football season.

In with the new

Elbel Field under construction. Band logo with construction trucks at field.

(Image D. Holdship.)

Before you get sad — the past is just an illusion, right? — it’s time to celebrate the promise of new life. Construction on a $631M Central Campus residential complex is expected to be completed by summer 2026. It will feature 2,300 beds and a 900-seat dining hall facility.

Imagine the day when those 2,300 students descend upon this new complex, clueless about the ground on which it stands. As time moves forward, they will become increasingly unaware of the rich history beneath their feet.

That’s OK though. That history lives in our memories, our iPhones, the Bentley Historical Library, and other University archives. The students who move into that complex in a few years will be creating their own rich history, unique to that building, its surroundings, and the same ground I am observing today. And so will the next class, and the next. Over and over and over.

Standing amid the beeping trucks with their aggressively loud engines, watching them tear up the earth, it’s hard not to be a little sentimental. How many times have I stopped my car to grab a picture of the band on a sunny weekday morning, or a random tuba case covered in snow? But what am I worried about? The band is only moving a block. And those kids who live in that Central Campus residential complex are going to hear “The Victors” more times than they will be able to count. So I take some comfort amid this chaos. Even though we all move on — the marching band included — the song remains the same.



  1. Sandy Cartwright - DH 1954

    My memories of that field go back to the Ann Arbor High School (Pioneers) football games.


  2. Jo n Shaw - 1950

    I enjoyed your article about Elbel Field. I grew up a block from what was then Wines Field. In the 1930’s I went there to the summer playground program and to to ice skate in the winter. In the ‘40’s I was practicing with the Ann Arbor High School band and going to their football games. By the ‘60’s I was taking my children to watch the Michigan band practice. Thanks for the memories.
    Jo Ann Lyons Shaw


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